I Was Going To Be A Doctor (Startup Stories 17.08)

 Chris Berger, Nutshell, HF 2017

Chris Berger, Nutshell, HF 2017

“I am going to be a doctor.” That’s what I was constantly telling myself upon entering college. The constant nagging inner mantra that embodied everything I was supposed to be in order to deem myself successful someday. Here I am 6 years later, working for a little startup called Nutshell in the beautiful city of Ann Arbor, and loving my life more than I could have ever thought possible back in those pre-med days. 

One of the most important things that I’ve learned since graduation is the value of work-life balance.

This balance is definitely something that I’ve come to appreciate from a software job and something that I would have a very difficult time juggling if I had followed through with the doctor route. I now know that I love working on a team that uses software to solve problems, but I also love to have a life outside that time at work as well. 

Nutshell has a fantastic culture that celebrates the individual and says that it’s okay to take time off to do the things that you love. This was truthfully a bit hard to adapt to in the beginning.

Of course, your company is going to say they want you to go out and do things that make you happy, but to the point where you leave work early to go play disc golf before dark and then finish up your work whenever you can fit it in?

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That seemed a little too good to be true, and I bet I would still be feeling guilty about taking me time in the middle of the day when I was feeling it if I didn’t see other people at the company taking advantage of this as well. People are constantly doing what they need to in order to keep their work-life balance in check at Nutshell. I came from a more standard corporate company before this, and boy can you tell the difference.  Everyone is happier in the time that they are at work. Everyone is more productive with their time.  And everyone else is better off for it because you can actually feel the positive energy when you walk into the building. I have finally found the workplace that doesn’t feel like work because a healthy work-life balance is celebrated and taken advantage of without the feeling of corporate big brother breathing down the back of your neck whenever you want to do something for yourself, and for that, I am very grateful.

On top of the beautiful addition of a true work-life balance in my life, I have also found a team that appreciates my opinions and works together using some modern tools. I have never felt more accepted into a team than Nutshell made me feel in the first few weeks after I started.  There were team-wide lunches, multiple discussion threads to learn more about me, and most importantly I was shoved right into the code base in a support type role.

 
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My support role was directly working with our CX team to help triage customer facing issues as the bugs and questions were being reported. This was so much better than any formal onboarding that I’ve ever been a part of. I learned so many different pieces of the code base in such a short amount of time, and as a result, I forgot a bunch of it. But staying on this team for my first couple of months with the company was vital to learning all the different ways that we do things. This showed me that I am a trusted member of this team. I asked questions, got answers, and made decisions on my own based on the things that I had learned. The team never pushed back, gave constructive criticism in code reviews when I went off the rails on my solution and gave me all their trust.

All Nutshell engineers are respected, given space to work, and helped when they get stuck. It is definitely the most responsibility I have ever had, and I absolutely love the fact that I have an entire company that relies on the work that I do on a daily basis to keep the ball rolling.

 
 

Two more huge pluses for the engineering team at Nutshell are our versatility and ability to grow. I am predominantly a backend engineer, but there is absolutely nothing standing between me and picking up frontend work. Our team works fluidly in planning to allow everyone to get their hands on whatever they are trying to build expertise in, and the rest of the team is always willing to jump in to pair up with someone working in their own preferred area of the code base. I see this as one of our greatest strengths because people are constantly taking advantage of this to become more well-rounded instead of building up the silos of knowledge that you often see in companies that are more rigid in structure. As a budding engineer, this is pretty much a best-case scenario. You get to choose and own your work with a supportive network of other engineers trying to do the same exact thing. So not only do we work together at Nutshell, but we also grow together however we choose to do so.

 
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Of course, you can’t have startup life without a work hard play hard mentality. When it’s time to get down to it, everyone steps up to the plate and helps out to the best of their ability.  But when the work is over the games are only just beginning. Impromptu happy hours, holiday hot chocolate bars, offsite weekends in Traverse City, and softball games are all fun things that Nutshell gets together in order to grow the team on a more personal level that just cannot be achieved in the workplace. Sometimes you just need a drink in your hand or a little fun in the sun to really get to know the people grinding away next to you day in and day out. I have never personally been on a company trip quite like our offsite, and I was still feeling very much like “the new guy” when it happened. I no longer had this same feeling at the end of the weekend.  I had learned who the people are sitting next to me each day. It was essentially that point when I knew I had found a second home and that I was finally in a space that I could really love. 

 
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If you had come up and told me that I was going to be a software engineer when I was in my final year of high school I would have told you that you were out of your damn mind. I had no idea what that entailed, and I was very much riding the “you need to be a doctor” bus.  Now if you were to come up and tell me that I should have been a doctor, I would tell you that you are out of your damn mind. I now have hopes to prevent this from happening in the future. Once I’m a bit more settled in life I want to be the one who helps introduce young people to the joys of software and more broadly of being an engineer. Solving problems for a living can sometimes feel like you’re playing a giant game! 

I want to be the one who helps show kids who are starting to think about their future just how fun my recently found tech lifestyle can be.


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Chris is a 2017 Hacker Fellow who studied Computer Science at the University of Michigan. He is currently working with Nutshell in Ann Arbor.